Edwin Soi (left) overtakes Vincent Yator to win the African 5000m title in Nairobi (Mohammed Amin) © Copyright
General News Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya captures five gold medals as African champs conclude in Nairobi

Host nation Kenya dominated the closing day of the 17th CAA Safaricom African Athletics Championships with five more gold medals, but there was plenty of drama, close finishes, and surprises at Nyayo stadium in Nairobi, Kenya on Sunday.

Yator’s slip gives Soi 5000m title in Kenyan sweep

The biggest drama of the day came in the men’s 5000m final where long-time leader Vincent Yator slipped in the final 10m of the race to allow compatriot and Olympic 5000m bronze medalist Edwin Soi to sneak through for victory in another clean sweep of the medals for Kenya.

After a slow opening two laps, the race picked up pace after three laps when Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, who had won silver in the 10,000m on the opening day, led three of his compatriots followed by a large pack of 26. But Yator, sixth in the World Junior Championships 5000m in Bydgoszcz, Poland, two years ago, was the first to make a real breakaway attempt at 3000m when he opened up a small gap over Kipsiro, with compatriots Soi and Mark Kiptoo edging ahead of Ethiopians Tariku Bekele and Imane Merga.

One lap later, Soi and Kiptoo overtook Kipsiro and virtually ended the event as a race among nations as they opened a 30m gap on the Ugandan. A pair of 63-second laps saw the gap widening with Yator marginally ahead of his compatriots at the bell.

For the first 350 metres of the last lap, Yator dealt with Soi’s customary finishing kick impressively before he lost concentration in the final 10 metres and stepped on the grass outside lane one and wobbled to stay on his feet. Soi, who had looked beaten before that moment, quickly sensed his teammate’s discomfort and powered ahead to overtake him at the finish line in 13:30.46 with an unfortunate second in 13:30.53. Kiptoo completed the Kenyan podium sweep in 13:32.45 ahead of Kipsiro with Ethiopians Imane Merga and Tariku Bekele finishing fifth and sixth respectively.

“When I saw Vincent [Yator] slip, I knew that I had the chance and decided to give everything for it,” said the race winner. “I am happy for my first African title and to win all three medals in the 5000m feels really great. We had a plan before the race to break away like that and I am very satisfied that it worked.”

Bouras stuns Jepkosgei in women’s 800m

While the clean sweep in the men’s 5000m was unexpected by the Kenyans, victory in the women’s 800m was largely anticipated by the partisan crowd.

And for the first 750 metres of the race, it looked like the World and Olympic silver medallist Janet Jepkosgei had worked out her pre-race tactics very well after taking the pack through the first 400m in 58.64 and easily holding off her challengers from behind.

The real drama in the race started in the last 100 metres. First Moroccan Halima Hachlaf, who had led the African lists this year with 1:58.40, was floored amidst the rush to the finish. Then, Jepkosgei, who had looked comfortable in the lead, begun to slow down in the final 20 metres running on lane 2. It was a mistake that she would regret as unheralded Algerian Zahra Bouras overtook her on the inside lane to take victory in 2:00.22. A stunned Jepkosgei came home second in 2:00.50 with Moroccan Malika Akkaoui clocking a personal best time of 2:01.01 for bronze. Bouras is the daughter of Amar Bouras, who coached Algerian middle distance star Hassiba Boulmerka. She is coached by Ahmed Mahour Bacha.

“I am impressed by my own performance,” said Bouras. “I saw that the Kenyan was tiring in the final metres and she had opened up the first lane and I gave everything I had. This victory is unbelievable for me. I used to do the 400m and it is only this year that I switched to the 800m. This is my first African championships and the first time I have run the 800m in a big competition. I am very happy.”

Kiprop holds off Laalou and Gebremedhin

There were no surprises in the men’s 1500m where Kenya’s Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop comfortably held off the challenge from the advancing Amine Laalou for his first African title, an improvement on his 800m silver in Addis Ababa two years ago.

Running from the front in the first two laps, the former World junior Cross Country champion took the leading pack through the first 400m in 53.65 and then 1:53.65 before Mekonnen Gebremedhin, fourth at the World indoors this year in Doha, took over the lead. The 22-year-old Ethiopian was marginally ahead of the pack with Kenyan Silas Kiplagat close behind.

At the bell, Gebremedhin started a brave sprint to the finish which did well to disperse a jostling and pushing chase pack. With 200 metres to go and with Gebremedhin still ahead, he was left with five genuine chasers before Kiprop and then Laalou overtook him at the bend. Kiprop never looked back before stopping the clock in 3:36.19 ahead of Laalou’s 3:36.38, with Gebremedhin edging out Kiplagat for bronze in 3:36.65.

“The race was fantastic and cheering squad was outstanding,” commented Kiprop on the rasping support he received from the crowd. “I have run with Amine and Mekonnen many times in Europe this season and knew that they were strong. I am quite delighted about the victory. My plan this year is to do well at the World Cup and run sub-3.30 if I get the opportunity.”

African record and third title for Wanjiru

Kenyan Grace Wanjiru broke the only African record of the championships when winning her third African 20Km Race Walk title in 1:34.19. The 30-year-old took the lead with 2km left and walked home with victory ahead of Tunisia’s Chaima Trabelsi with Ethiopian Aynalem Eshetu taking bronze. Ethiopia’s Asnakech Ararsa, silver medallist two years ago in Addis Ababa, was disqualified after 14km.

“I was planning to do a personal record here and I am happy about it,” said Wanjiru, who has now won three of the four African titles since the event was introduced in the program in 2004.

In the men’s corresponding event, Tunisian Hassanine Sebei clocked championship record time of 1:20.36 to beat Kenya’s 37-year old-veteran David Kimutai (1:21.07) and Algerian Hicham Medjeber (1:22.53). The 26-year-old, who was bronze medallist two years ago in Addis Ababa, was coached by Tunisia’s 2007 World championship bronze medallist Hatem Gouala until last year and said his legendary countryman was his inspiration for the victory.

“I connect with Hatem all the time over the phone,” he said. “He gives me a lot of advice and helps me a lot. He is an inspiration to me.”

Seoud shocks Meite, Osayemi just holds on

Earlier in the day, the 200m races had contrasting fortunes for the pre-race favorites. Nigeria’s Damole Osayemi, silver medalist in the women’s 100m and part of her country’s 4X100m relay winning team, took an expected victory to win her third medal of the championships. After a good start, Osayemi clicked into gear at the 100 metres and looked clear of Gabon’s Perennes Pau Zang Milama at 150 metres before slowing down towards the finish and nearly allowing South Africa’s Estie Wittstock to catch her. Nevertheless, Osayemi took victory in 23.36 ahead of Wittstock (23.50) with Milama holding off the advancing Delphine Etangana of Cameroon to take bronze (23.59), her second medal of the championships after 100m silver.

But the men’s 200m was a complete surprise with victory going to Egyptian Amr Ibrahim Mostafa Seoud in a history-making 20.36, an Egyptian national record. Pre-race favorite and Ivory Coast’s 100m champion Ben Yousef Meite was second in 20.39 with South Africa’s Simon Magakwe, the fastest African coming into the championships, third in 20.56.

Seoud’s outstanding effort in beating Ivory Coast’s 100m champion Ben Yousef Meite was the first North African victory in the men’s 100m or 200m sprints in the history of the championships. In fact, the only North African woman to win an African sprint title was the legendary Moroccan Nawal Mouatwakel, who won the 200m in 1984!

“I just decided to kill it,” said Seoud referring to his last ditch effort to secure victory over Meite. “I am surprised with the victory. This is the first year that I seriously trained. I have been preparing for this race in Colorado (he has been training at the University of Northern Colorado since November 2009 with Kevin Galbraith) and I am very happy.”

Chemos over Assefa in women’s steeplechase

The afternoon’s action started with the women’s 3000m Steeplechase in what was expected to be a dominating victory of world leader Milcah Chemos. After a dominant first half of the race in which she and Ethiopian Sofia Assefa dropped off their other challengers, she was given the race of her life by Assefa in a rasping sprint finish. At the end, Chemos held off the Ethiopian for victory in a championship record time of 9:32.18 with Assefa taking silver in 9:32.58. Kenyan Lydiah Rotich beat her compatriot Mercy Njoroge for bronze in 9:37.32.

Lambarki takes emotional 400m Hurdles title, Idris recovers from mourning to take high jump bronze

A major championship would not be complete without a few moment of real emotion. Nairobi 2010 produced two such moments. The first came in the women’s 400m Hurdles where Moroccan Hayat Lambarki (55.96) sneaked a surprise victory over Nigerian pre-race favorite Ajoke Odumosu (55.97) on the finish line. The shocked Moroccan quickly burst into tears after crossing the finish line and then again during the medal ceremony for the event.

The second came in the men’s High Jump, but had little to do with the event winner Botswana’s Kabelo Kgosiemang, who cleared 2.19m for victory. In a dramatic competition for second, four athletes cleared 2.15, but silver was awarded to Bong Matogno of Cameroon, while Fernand Djoumessi, also of Cameroon, and Sudan’s Mohammed Younis Idris tied for bronze. It was an emotional moment for Idris, who had heard about the passing of his father a day before the competition, but decided to compete on Sunday.

In the day’s other individual finals, Egypt’s El Sayed Abdelrahman beat African leader Gerardus Piennaar in the men’s javelin with a throw of 78.02m. Sarah Nambawa won Uganda’s first gold in the field events with a national record of 13.95m in the women’s Triple Jump. And Nigeria’s Miriam Ibekwe won the women’s shot put with 13.67m.

Kenya won its fifth gold of the day in the men’s 4X400m relays ahead of Botswana and Nigeria, while Nigeria Nigeria won an easy victory in the women’s event in 3:29.26. 800m specialist Janet Jepkosgei redeemed herself from losing in the women’s 800m final by anchoring Kenya to silver in 3:35.12 beating Senegal’s Amy Mbacke Thiam, whose country took bronze in 3:35.55.

Facts and figures - Kenya dominate championships

A spectacular firework display closed the 17th edition of the championships that saw a record 47 countries take part and 24 countries winning at least one medal. It was a fitting end to the campaign for the hosts who finished atop of the medals table with ten gold, seven silver, and eight bronze medals ahead of Nigeria and South Africa.

Benin will host the next edition of the championships in 2012 if they can confirm the backing of their government within one month.

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF

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